Last night, my wife and I went to see Ira Glass. She had bought the tickets for me for Christmas (thanks lovely!), so I'd been waiting for this for a long time.
For those of you who don't know, Ira is the host of This American Life, radio's greatest show. If you don't listen on the radio, may I suggest you subscribe to the podcast. It is well worth it.
It was a great, great show. He sat up on a plain stage behind a table. On the table, he had all his production gear. It was kind of like he was a DJ, but instead of playing songs, he was deejaying stories. He had a script, but he kept going off on little tangents. The show was ;ike his radio program--funny, ironic, and moving all at once.
He spent part of his time teaching us the elements of a good narrative. He didn't just talk about structure, but he talked about the meaning and purpose of narrative in the human life. Listening to a master storyteller dissect his craft was an important experience for me. It helped me to reflect on what I do, both verbally and in writing.
Listening to Ira, I heard several themes develop. One was the theme of storytelling as a way of making sense of reality. Another was the theme of religion. He spoke about his Jewishness, but he also talked a lot about Jesus and the Bible. And he did so with a great deal of respect. Sitting there, listening to him, I started having hopeful thoughts. No, I didn't think Ira was going to tell us he had converted. I was just thinking that perhaps God was working on his heart. All the elements were there: grand narrative, the senselessness of life apart from some overarching story, humor, joy, God, Jesus, the Bible, the whole thing.
At the end of the show, the lights came up and Ira took questions. I was pleasantly surprised by the intelligence of the questions that were asked. Most of them were thoughtful, well presented, and often came with some humor.
Somehow, the very last question got Ira onto a story about people getting hit by lightning. It seems that when he moved to Chicago there had been a rash of people struck by lightning. So Ira interviewed them. He found some commonalities. The one that truly stuck with him, and me, was that each person believed that it had happened for a reason. From the most religious to the least, each had a feeling that God had done it to them. But when asked what the message was, they didn't seem to know.
Ira then began to riff on lightning, and the idea of a god who throws lightning bolts at people. Then he said that he thinks that if he were struck by lightning, he would believe that someone must have thrown the bolt. The last words out of his mouth, just before the show was finally over, Ira said "I don't even believe in God and I would think that someone had thrown that bolt at me."
That statement made me sad. However, I don't think God is done with Ira Glass. I am hopeful that, in the midst of all the stories, he might someday find himself in the Great Story. And perhaps he can find in the Story the God who made him, gifted him, and loves him. That's my prayer for Ira.
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